I’m pleased to see that Rieva Lesonsky has published Secrets of Success: Tim Berry at her blog Forum.web.com. I’m proud of what I have to say there. Rieva asked really good questions.
Here’s one quote, on why I started my own business:
First, I wanted to do the work I liked doing (forecasting, market research, planning) instead of supervising others as they did the things I liked doing. I was a VP at Creative Strategies International, in charge of what we then called personal computer software, with six people reporting to me. I’m a doer more than a manager.
Second, I wanted to earn more money than what anybody in his or her right mind would pay me as salary. I loved the work but wanted, if I worked nights and weekends, to earn more for my extra production. And I was married with four kids at the time, living in a 1,200-square-foot house with one bedroom shared by all four kids.
That’s not even my favorite; but I’m grateful to Rieva for the invitation, so I’d rather you read it on her blog instead of mine.
And, for the record, a note on the title of this post. I’m self conscious about claiming success. That’s tempting fate, and it makes me nervous. I mean in no way to detract from Rieva’s post.
I was happy to see in this morning’s email that James Barrod and Brian Moran’s Lessons from the Recession is out now and being promoted on an innovative crowd funding site IndieGo.com.
I like the title because that’s exactly what this book is: lessons learned. Remember 2008? Particularly the end of 2008, September and October? All economic indicators plunged together. We all worried about what now-president Obama could do to keep us out of a depression. Those were some hard times. And they put business fundamentals to the test.
James and Brian subtitled it: Real Solutions for Every Small Business Riding the Economic Roller Coaster. I think that’s accurate. I’m one of about a dozen co-authors who contributed. My chapter uses some case studies to show how the right kind of business planning can help to manage change and uncertainty by keeping control on the dashboards of the business. Other chapters are written by experts I consider friends, Rieva Lesonsky and Barbara Weltman, and a roll call of experts I’d like to know better.
Disclosure: I got a check for writing a chapter.
More disclosure: one of the three companies I used as a case example for my chapter is not doing well, and I’m not sure about the other two. You be the judge of that factor. I’ve been wrong before with my praise of early startups that didn’t do as well as I expected. I think I’m too much of an optimist. Sometimes wanting these people to succeed clouds my judgement.
On that of course I’m in good company. Jim Collins’ excellent book Good to Great included Fannie Mae and Circuit City as great (and both tanked). And In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman included some (Digital Equipment, Wang, for example) companies that they called excellent that tanked later. Predicting the future is tough.
Which, by the way, is the main point of my chapter on business planning: with the right kind of business planning, you don’t predict the future, you manage the future by setting specific goals and milestones and following up with tracking and revisions as necessary.
One final thought: the IndieGo.com site is an interesting approach to funding a book effort. Take a look. I hope it works for James and Brian. They put a lot of work into this book, and what they created has some very good content.
I used to start a university class on entrepreneurship by asking the class to define the word entrepreneur.
It’s a reasonable question. News and discussion is full of pat phrases about entrepreneurs, most of which we take for granted. Politicians talk about entrepreneurs along with job creation, small business, motherhood, and apple pie. Challenge: find a politician who isn’t in favor of entrepreneurship.
But is everybody who claims the title really an entrepreneur? Or, for that matter, do we care? If your annoying neighbor becomes an entrepreneur by having sold one piece of furniture on eBay, do you care?
I liked Robert Jones suggestion: Let’s just change the word entrepreneur. His post 5 reasons we need a new word for entrepreneurs, from last July, has at least four good reasons. He and I and others followed up, but we didn’t come up with anything that great.
His post, however, also inspired Startup and small business expert Rieva Lesonsky to follow up with her post asking what does it really mean to be an entrepreneur? She pulls a lot of different definitions together, offers a menu ranging from the heroic, dreamy, crazy-creative definitions to the way-less-glamorous project manager and social definitions, but concludes with tongue in cheek:
My favorite definition of an entrepreneur comes from Doug Mellinger, the co-founder of Foundation Source, who once told me, “An entrepreneur is someone who will do anything to keep from getting a job.
All of that discussion, however, came jsut a bit after Steve King posted Comparison Small Business Owners to High-tech Entrepreneurs on his blog Small Biz Labs. Steve dives into available research to highlight the huge differences between these two groups. We all talk and think like they’re the same thing. It turns out that they aren’t. Compared to overall small business owners, the techies are way more likely to be well educated, motivated by money, and (unfortunately) male. Steve concludes:
we think policy makers need a better understanding of not just high-growth firms and their founders, but also the less glamorous businesses and business owners that make up the vast majority of small businesses in the U.S. economy.
You’ve either started a company or you haven’t. ”Started” doesn’t mean joining as an early employee, or investing or advising or helping out. It means starting with no money, no help, no one who believes in you (except perhaps your closest friends and family), and building an organization from a borrowed cubicle with credit card debt and nowhere to sleep except the office.
Chris exaggerates. Sleeping in the office isn’t necessary. And the ones who develop a plan and raise money are still entrepreneurs. But I’m shocked, by the way, at the level of anger and angst in some of the 263 comments. It’s a simple two-paragraph post, a simple statement, overwhelmed by comments. It shouldn’t be that controversial: You’ve either started a company or you haven’t.
I’m not sure of the answer to this one; it’s a good question. A man whose last name is Green saw my post here turning green from overuse and he asks:
I’m starting a small woodworking and furniture building shop and am looking for a name. It seems natural to use Green as it is my last name, however I don’t want to be lumped into just another green company.
My immediate reaction was:
Of course you should use your own name. It’s not just greening it up in your case, it’s authentic; it is your name. And if it resonates because it also implies natural and environmental, all the better. Overuse or not, those are both good qualities.
But then I thought some more about it. What if potential customers see Green in the name and assume greenwashing?What if, as time passes, green acquires negative meaning, becomes a diluted term like the term user-friendly in software?
So I asked some friends in Twitter, and got some good answers very fast. You can see those answers here, and, by the way, that link in one of the tweets goes to Smart Industries, which was founded by Gordon Smart in 1963, and is strong and healthy.
So – and this is what makes this a good question – there is no easy and obvious answer to this one. Like so many things in business, it depends.
By the way, those smart and helpful people who answered in Twitter, should you want to follow them, are @rieva (Rieva Lesonsky), @smallbizlady (Melinda Emerson), @timburks (Tim Burks), and @frankdekker (Frank Dekker). Thanks.
The answer to that question is: no. Not any more than the next person. They just like their business better. They took risks because they saw the goal. It was the dark side of building the company. They had to. But when it comes to savings and investment, no.
Well, actually, the most correct answer to that question is:
You can’t generalize. Some do, and some don’t. Entrepreneurs are a bunch of hard-to-categorize individuals, and who has good data, because all we really get are successful entrepreneurs.
True story: An investment advisor noted once that my wife and I have the most conservative portfolio he manages. He thought for just a second that might be odd for an entrepreneur. But then he thought about the risk we’ve taken over 30-some years of building our own business, financing it at times with multiple mortgages and credit card debt, signing owner guarantees all the time, raising children, paying colleges … walking around for years with the knowledge that something as beyond our control as one of the major software distributors going under, not to mention a software giant accidentally rolling over us, could kill the business and leave us with a lot of debt and no house.
And it was suddenly clear to him. No wonder we don’t want to prospect now with what we’ve managed to save through the years. It was clear on his face, he understood. Capital preservation is what we want, now, not more risk. We’re safe now, at least to some degree, because of savings not dependent on the business. But we don’t want to lose those savings.